Bearing Witness to the Pandemic August 2020

Week of August 2 – 8, 2020

Nearly every industrial country that was stricken hard early on has now managed to contain the coronavirus pandemic, except for the United States.  At the beginning of the month as the US case count approaches 5 million and our death toll passes 157,000 the President claims once again that the pandemic is under control and that we  have done a good job. The President in an interview says that yes “they are dying” and “it is what it is.” He then turns his wrath on the remaining member of the Pandemic Task Force he has not attacked, Dr. Deborah Birx, whom he calls out for a “pathetic” comment that the virus was extraordinarily widespread.

The number of tests per day in the US is dropping, not going up. It’s fallen below 800,000 when experts say it should be at least twice that amount. Have people given up hope? Are they tired of waiting in lines and waiting days in fear and isolation to get results back?

At the beginning of the week, with 60,000 new cases each day and 1,000 deaths, the Congress and White House are so far a part in the next round of relief aid that the President threatens to go around Congress all together and issue executive orders. At the end of the week he makes good on his threat and while at his private country club in New Jersey signs a number of orders that bypasses Congress. His orders provide for $400 a week in supplemental federal unemployment aid that states must pay part of and a reduction of payroll taxes that businesses pay which workers may not see in their paychecks. The latter may just be another way for Republicans to kill off Medicare and Social Security since that is what payroll taxes fund. Regardless, it is expected that both sides will file court cases to block the new executive orders so who knows when it will actually help millions of hurting American businesses and families.

New unemployment claims fall to 1.2 million this week with an additional 656,000 freelancers seeking benefits. This is the 20th consecutive week with claims over 1 million.

It is estimated that some 20-30 million Americans are at risk of losing their home or being evicted from their rental property due to the pandemic. And records numbers of Americans remain out of work. But that does not stop the stock market from nearing all-time highs. This just shows how bad – no obscene – the inequality of income, wealth and political interests have become in the country.

The National Center for Health Statistics says that nearly 1 in 3 Americans are suffering from anxiety. The Kaiser Foundation reports that more than 50% of adults believe the pandemic is affecting their mental health and more than a third impacting their sleep. I actually worry more about those who say it is not. Are they hiding their fear and repressing their grief that will surely come out of hiding sooner or later?

Perhaps the best example that our mental health is being impacted is the sight of an expected 250,000 bikers descending upon Sturgis, South Dakota this past week for their annual rally. It will be the largest public gathering since the pandemic began earlier this year. North Dakota officials see no problems with letting it go on, then letting the likely thousands who are infected travel back to their homes leaving the virus behind as well. Masks and social distancing are rarely seen it is reported. Some mistakenly think all they need to do is to have hand sanitizer around, ignoring all the warnings about how the virus is transmitted through the air instead of by touch. The Republican Governor has taken a hands-off approach saying that people just need to take responsibility for their own health. Geeze, thank you Governor for being the example of responsibility yourself. We will be sure to send you the medical bill for those who become infected and wish we could send you to jail for those deaths which could have been prevented.

New studies are showing that long-term complications from Coronavirus on health of those infected and recovered can be severe. Damage to heart, lungs, kidneys, and neurological functions may be long lasting. People once they are over Covid-19 may never be fully recovered. It is not yet clear whether most of that is due to the actual virus, the bodies inflammatory response, or the life-saving procedures required such as being placed in a coma and on a ventilator for days if not weeks at a time. The costs to the health care system are expected to be many billions of dollars as for every death due to Covid-19 complications there are at least 10 survivors who made it through.

More research is also dispelling the notion that children are immune to the virus. There have been at least 350 cases and 6 deaths of children reported with an average age of 8. Nearly 70% of those are Hispanic of Black. Why some kids get ill while others don’t is far from being understood. Neither is why some spread the disease and others don’t. Schools that decided to open back up with on-site classes have already been closed with hundreds of students sent into isolation.

Week of August 9-15

The US surpasses 5.2 million cases this week and 168,000 deaths, by far the highest of any other country. It took only 15 days to go from 4 million to 5 million. We reported the highest single daily death toll since early May with over 1,500. Health experts estimate that the actual case count maybe 10 times that, or closer to 50 million, due to so many asymptomatic carriers. The rest of the world does not understand how this could happen to a country like the US. Neither do we Americans.

Despite all the illness, death, misery, unemployment, civic unrest, rising poverty, food lines, non-functioning government, business closures, international trade crises, corporate bankruptcies, evictions, homelessness, shrinking GDP, ballooning national debt, election anxiety, mental health crisis, and economic carnage…the stock market nears its all time high this week. How can this possibly be? The pandemic has made it more obvious now; we have two Americas. One for the working poor and middle class who live off of job wages and are suffering thru all the crises, and the other America for the wealthy who live off of their investment portfolios which are being artificially backstopped and inflated by the Fed that is giving away money and debt for free for those who can quality for it and likely don’t need it. It is no wonder many have started to describe the pandemic recovery as not a U, nor a V, nor a W, but a K. Things are returning back to normal for the well off while essential workers and those at the lower ends of the economy are living through a dystopian depression. The pandemic is not only revealing but also enlarging the inequalities that exist in our country.

Positivity test rates in many locales are still 10% and above. States like Georgia, Florida, Arizona, California, and Louisiana are reporting hundreds of deaths a day. Yet many in the hardest hit deep south are still planning to open up public schools and of course collegiate football. But as soon as come schools opened up for classroom learning they were closed within the same week as coronavirus outbreaks within their student populations forced thousand to go into quarantine.

So many things have changed or been impacted by the pandemic that we lose track. It is thought some 25% of independent restaurants and cafes have shuttered for good. Also changed have been our jobs, schools, shopping, dining, church, college campuses, travel, health care, funerals, weddings, births, nursing home visits, main street shops, highway traffic, the economy, deficits, local and state budgets, government programs, crime and shootings, civil unrest, museums, entertainment, libraries, sporting events, arts and culture, delivery services, concerts, routine doctor and dentists visits, time with remote family members, community events, city hall meetings, vacations, political campaign, voting, recreation, newspapers, local TV newscasts, increase partisanship, digitalization of everything, and the list goes on and on and on. Which of these will recover? Which big and little pleasures of life will be forever lost?

Unable to reach a deal on the next pandemic relief package, Congress headed home for the summer recess. The Republicans had a $1 trillion dollar plan and the Democrats originally had a $3T that they retreated to offer to meet in the middle at $2T. But that was not good enough for Republican legislators and the President. Trump said the new deal was not going to happen because in part the Democrats wanted funding to help the USPS cope with a surge in mail-in voting from Americans voters and poll workers worried about catching the virus when voting live in long lines expected this Nov. 3.

New state unemployment filings finally fell below 1 million for the past week, to 960,000. breaking a period of 5 months where each week they were above 1 million. Another nearly 500,000 self-employed and contractors filed for assistance under the federal pandemic relief program.

Dozens of public health experts this week raised further alarm about the new federal rules on reporting hospital data related to the Covid-19. Health Secretary Azar last month has shocked the medical profession with orders that they stop sending coronavirus data to the CDC, but instead to a federal contractor who would maintain the database and manage the reporting. The legitimate fear is the HHS will manipulate the data for political reasons and that transparency and integrity would be lost, putting the health and lives of Americans in peril.

Week of August 16-22

An analysis of deaths reported across the nation by the CDC reveals that there is an excess of 200,000 – 215,000 deaths over what would normally have been experienced since March. Meaning, the official death toll of 170,000 deaths is a significant underreporting. The medical journal JAMA reported that our 2020 pandemic is now comparable in its effect on mortality to the 1918 flu pandemic. Another report has found that while long-term care facilities have less than 1% of the country’s population they have accounted for more than 40% of the deceased.

The CDC study also reported that nearly half the dead were people of color such as Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Yet, these populations make up only 40% of the country’s population. Several reasons were cited for the racial disparities, including less access to health care, higher rates of preexisting conditions, lower incomes, working in essential jobs, multigenerational households, and higher rates of institutionalization or incarceration.  Americans may be all in this together, but the “this” we are in is not the same.

Jobless claims went up not down this week to top over a million with another 500,000 plus gig workers also seeking help. The federal $600 a week supplement has now expired, without a new deal from Congress or a workable Executive Order from the White House. Any incentive to claim unemployment because benefits would be greater than job wages is now a fantasy of the Republicans in the rear view mirror.

The President announced a new medical doctor has joined the White House Pandemic Task Force. Dr. Scott Atlas has no experience in infectious diseases or public health, but on Fox News he has been a critic of lockdowns and keeping kids out of school. He went so far to say that when young people get infected that is a good thing as it builds herd immunity for the rest of us. So what if a few more thousand have to die in the process, right Doctor?  His appointment comes as the President and his pundits continue to disparage existing task force members Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx.

To the delight of the Trump administration, more public schools and colleges began to welcome students back to classes and campuses. However, more than a few sent students, teachers, and faculty packing and back home or into quarantine a few days later due to too many or too large clusters of positive test results.

The  economy and stock market are not just amoral, but have now become immoral. Despite the economic carnage on Main Street the Wall Street stock indices continue their climb past previous record highs.  A Regional Federal Reserve President has claimed that Wall Street has called the situation about right. Yes, what else would he say. The Feds have backstopped or bailed out small, medium, and large businesses with several trillion dollars of direct and indirect relief. The only reason that Wall Street has not panicked is because the Federal Government now acts like socialism, if not communist-like policies where the state invests in or owns private businesses, is all the sudden a pretty good thing. Meanwhile, as investment portfolios surge, the purchases of big boats, recreational vehicles, private tutors, and rural vacation homes are at near all time records. This while 30 million unemployed workers are facing foreclosures, evictions, loss of health insurance, and personal bankruptcies.

The week ends with 5.6 million having tested positive for the virus across the United States and 177,000 deaths. The daily death toll continues to hover around 1,000 per day. The global count is nearly 800,000 from over 22 million cases.  The states of New York, California, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey have each passed 10,000 deaths demonstrating that the virus does not care if you are a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal,. Some are surprised it is not higher given that areas of some major cities have tested as high as 50% for the antibodies that result from an infection. Health experts continue to prepare Americans for a total by year end approaching 250,000 fatalities. I guess, Mr. President, that this virus did not just disappear as you said it would back in February.

Week of August 23-31

Americans have reason to lose faith in two more government agencies due to the White House’s anti-science propaganda. In an astonishing act this week the CDC said that there is no need to test asymptomatic people or even those who may have come into contact with an infected person. This despite health experts knowing that asymptomatic people can still be carriers and spreaders of coronavirus as up to 40% of those infected with the disease may never develop symptoms themselves. President Trump has been quoted often saying that we should do less testing, so upon hearing that the new guidance came from the White House Pandemic Task force there is little reason to believe it was not because of the President who wants the country to put Covid-19 behind before the election. The reason we had to shut the whole damn economy and country down with stay-at-home orders was because we could not stand testing up quickly enough to identify who was infected so they could be isolated, instead of the entire country.  Experts call the new guidance alarming and dangerous saying we should be testing in the low millions per day across the country but are doing less than 800,000.

The negligence of this administration failed to protect America at the onset of the pandemic and it malfeasance continues to do so to this day. But that did not stop a propaganda film from being shown at the RNC this week that said it was the media, Democrats, and World Health Organization that got the China Virus all wrong, they are to blame, and it was our onw leader President Trump that saved us by taking action that save lives.

Just days before the CDC announcement, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn announced a supposed milestone  declaring that treating Covid-19 patients with convalescent plasma, that is blood containing antibodies, could save more than 35% of those who contract the disease. On the eve of the Republican National Convention President Trump heralded the news as a historic breakthrough. The next day, after scientists around the US questioned the claim, Hahn had to walk it back saying he overstated the benefits by using the wrong data for risk reduction. It seems President Trump tarnishes if not corrupts everyone he comes into contact with.

The health care profession is learning how to deal with “long haulers” who are the thousands of  Covid-19 patients that are sick for many weeks then take months to fully recover. They often suffer long term damage to heart, lungs, brain, bowels, and overall quality of life. There are among now over 2 million Covid-19 survivors.

The month ends with 178,000 deaths from just over 5.9 million cases in the US. While the number being tested remains flat if not falling, the positivity rate continues to stubbornly rest between 5-10% if not climbing in many states. There are about 40,000 new cases per day across the US with 1,000 deaths. That’s about one fatality in the country every minute and a half. The good news is that the number of new cases is falling as is the fatality rate due largely to younger and healthier Americans now becoming infected. The improvement is also said to be due to more states and communities under mandatory mask wearing orders. Yet, some public health researchers are warning the final 2020 death count could exceed 300,000. Three hundred thousand.


The above news items have been taken from a number of international, national, regional, and local news media sources including print, digital, and broadcast. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

Featured image is from The COVID Tracking Project at https://covidtracking.com/data/charts/us-currently-hospitalized.